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Green groups call on Southeast Asian governments to resist waste imports

Green groups call on Southeast Asian governments to resist waste imports

MANILA, Philippines (May 24, 2019) — Southeast Asian environmental non-governmental organizations are calling on their respective governments to strictly enforce bans on illegally shipped wastes from developed countries.

“The recent news about waste shipments being discovered at the shores of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia is alarming. When the wealthy nations clean up, it should not have to be at the expense of the developing world. Governments in Asia, which has become the world’s new dumpsite, must strictly guard their territories against waste smuggling from richer countries,” said Beau Baconguis, Plastics Campaigner of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific and Break Free From Plastic Asia Pacific coordinator.

Early this month, waste shipments from Australia arrived at the Mindanao International Container Terminal in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental in Southern Philippines. These were declared as municipal waste/processed engineered fuel (PEF) intended for the cement company Holcim. The news of the shipment broke out as the Philippine government is demanding the Canadian government to take back 69 containers of illegally shipped wastes found in the Manila port in 2013 and 2014.

“The entry into our country of residual wastes generated by Australia’s commercial, industrial, and construction sectors in the form of cement kiln fuels looks like a devious disposal scheme.  Described as ‘municipal waste’ in the shipment declaration, Australia is able to get rid of its residual wastes in a profitable way by converting and relabeling them as processed engineered fuel for export to developing countries like ours. We question this latest scheme of foreign waste disposal,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of Ecowaste Coalition.

Meanwhile, early this year, at least 60 shipping containers carrying hazardous and toxic wastes have been piling up at the Batu Ampar port in Batam, Riau Island, in Indonesia for five months. Earlier, a shipment containing waste from foreign countries was discovered in Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta.

“This has to stop. It is the height of hypocrisy for the richer countries to be presenting themselves to the world as having good waste management system, while at the same time, polluting us and calling us the world’s biggest polluters. Shame on them! Come clean up your mess and stop producing so much waste,” said Yuyun Ismawati, co-founder of BaliFokus/Nexus3.

Earlier this week, news outlets reported that the Malaysian government has already sent back to Spain five containers of contaminated plastic waste that was smuggled into the country. According to the United Nations’ trade database and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Malaysia’s imports of plastic waste from its 10 biggest source-countries jumped to 456,000 tons between January and July 2018, versus 316,600 tons purchased in all of 2017 and 168,500 tons in 2016.

Mageswari Sangalingaram of the Consumers Association of Penang lauds the move of the government of Malaysia to resist the waste shipments.

“As the Malaysian government is getting stringent in enforcing restrictions of plastic waste imports by sending back mixed, contaminated and falsely declared waste consignment to the country of origin, we are very concerned that unscrupulous exporters are now eyeing other countries and ports of entry to dump their waste. The enforcement agencies must now step up their efforts to ensure that our countries do not become dumping grounds for the developed nations,” she said.

Countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand have been at the receiving end of illegally shipped wastes from developed countries since China banned plastic waste importation in 2018. Because of this, Malaysian and Thai governments started imposing restrictions in mid-2018.

A recent  report by GAIA titled “Discarded: Communities on the Frontlines of the Global Plastic Crisis” shows the impacts of plastic waste being dumped into developing countries. The influx of the plastic waste in these countries has resulted in contaminated water, crop death, and respiratory illnesses caused by inhaling toxic fumes from burned plastic.

In the recently held Basel Convention, an international treaty on dealing with hazardous waste, 187 countries agreed to Norway’s proposal of extending the “prior informed consent” system to plastic waste. The agreement requires exporters to seek the permission from destination countries before it can ship in its hazardous waste to that country. The said agreement is set to take effect after a year.

“The Basel Convention mandates countries to deal with their plastic waste problem in their own backyards instead of passing the burden on to other countries. Until the amendment takes effect in 2020, developing countries are on their own in safeguarding their territories,” Baconguis said.

Note to the Editor:

In order to make cement, high-temperature kilns are needed. Traditionally, coal is used in these kilns, but in the past two decades, many “alternative fuels” have been used. The term “alternative fuel” has often been used to disguise the fact that this “fuel” is actually waste, including tires, plastics, and petrochemical waste. Burning waste alongside coal allows cement kilns to use loopholes in emission regulations. In some instances, the kilns actually receive subsidies or carbon credits for replacing some coal with waste—in spite of their toxic impact.

Source: https://www.no-burn.org/cement/

CONTACTS

Jed Alegado, Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic
jed@breakfreefromplastic.org | +63 917-6070248

 

Sherma Benosa, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific

sherma@no-burn.org | +63 917-8157570

 

Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific

sonia@no-burn.org | +63 917-5969286

 

College of the Atlantic Commits to Campus Wide Plastic Elimination Goal

College of the Atlantic Commits to Campus Wide Plastic Elimination Goal

Bar Harbor, ME. The College of the Atlantic is the first college campus in the country to sign onto the “Break Free From Plastic Campus Pledge” – a campus-wide commitment to eliminate all single-use disposable plastics. With COA’s President signing the pledge last week, COA has committed to “Break Free From Plastic” by 2025. This initiative was led by the student group [Earth] and supported by the non-profit the Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN). The “Break Free From Plastic” campus pledge and toolkit specifically addresses accessibility and inclusivity concerns, and generates a framework for college campuses (and other institutions) to develop long-term systemic solutions to issues around
waste and disposable consumption.

PLAN is a non-profit that cultivates, educates, and inspires students leaders to tackle issues around waste and unsustainable systems on their campus. The campus pledge was built in coalition with the international Break Free From Plastic Movement and can be found on PLAN’s website among many
other tools and resources to assist students looking to get involved in the student led zero waste movement.

[Earth] started as a logo developed by a group of College of the Atlantic students preparing to attend the UN Climate Negotiations in Nairobi in 2006. From there it has grown into an internationally recognized symbol representing the political mess we’re in. We believe international cooperation is not only possible, but necessary if we are to address our most pressing problems. Any lasting solution needs to include as many people as possible.

Darron Collins ’92, President of COA, Anna Mae Sheehan ’22 and Isidora Muñoz ’22, members of [Earth]

“It’s become clear to many people by now that plastics are one of humanity’s ‘wicked problems,’ and while the actions of one small college aren’t going to solve that problem, what we are doing with the signing of this pledge is a very real start–one we hope that other organisations will take notice of and consider following along.” – Darron Collins ’92, president of COA.

“The PLAN pledge will be an important keystone in College of the Atlantic’s commitment to diverting 90% of campus associated discarded resources from landfill and incineration by 2025” – Eleanor White ’22, co-chair of the Campus Committee for Sustainability

“By signing PLANs #BreakFreeFromPlastic pledge, we hope to commit College of the Atlantic to follow through on the discarded resource policies that we have in place and join a growing network of campuses that are moving away from single-use plastics” – Anna Mae Sheehan ’22, member of [Earth]

For More Information Contact
Faye Christoforo, PLAN Co-Director: 978-269-4368, faye@postlandfill.org

 

Asia Will No Longer Tolerate Being a Plastic Waste Dump

Asia Will No Longer Tolerate Being a Plastic Waste Dump

China set the trend of refusing foreign plastic waste. Now other Asian countries are following suit.

Over the last three decades, the top plastic waste exporters, including the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, sent abroad plastic waste weighting about  168 million tonnes, most of it to China. In 2018, China said “enough is enough,” and announced a ban on imports of plastic waste, setting off a crisis in the global waste system. The majority of this plastic was then redirected into Southeast Asia, with Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia being flooded with waste, at great environmental and human cost.

However, from local clean-up crews and campaigns to global action, a powerful movement to break free from plastics is making change in 2019.

International Agreement to Clean up Waste Trade

European Union countries, who already have a law banning all exports of Basel-controlled “hazardous” waste to developing countries, will now also be prohibited from exporting dirty or mixed plastic waste to much of Asia.This week at the United Nations, over 180 countries took a major step forward in curbing the plastic waste crisis by adding plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that controls the movement of hazardous waste from one country to another. This change means exporters will be required to get consent from receiving countries before shipping most contaminated, mixed, or unrecyclable plastic waste, providing an powerful way for countries in the Global South to stop the dumping of unwanted plastic waste into their country.

This decision will help to clean up the trade in plastic currently flooding Southeast Asia, which has resulted in polluted waterways, fires and illegal dumping, to name just a few issues. Controls on the global plastic waste trade will have real impacts in the lives of local people, such as those living in towns like Kok Hua Khao in Thailand, where the water has become undrinkable since a foreign waste operation started there last year.

While all Asian countries supported the move, not everyone was cheering on this new waste trade regulation. The United States (the largest exporter of plastic waste in the world), the petrochemical industry, and some recycling lobbying groups strongly opposed the deal. Yet as the United States is not a party to the Basel Convention it was not able to vote, and will be banned from trading dirty or mixed plastic waste to most of the Global South. As Jim Puckett from the Basel Action Network explained, “The fact that the U.S. will no longer be able to use the rest of the world as a plastic waste dump is a very significant victory for the environment and global justice.”

This global action should result in less plastic in our oceans, as exporting countries will be forced to take responsibility for their own plastic problem, rather than simply exporting their pollution.

Plastic burning in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Image Credit: Emma Priestland, Friends of the Earth

Reduce Plastics at Home

The murky reality is that much of the plastic that we throw into recycling bins is low-grade, dirty, and mixed type plastics, which are then dumped in countries in Asia. There, they are usually recycled unsafely and to low standards, and often simply incinerated, landfilled, or leaked into the environment. This is driven by brutal, short-term economics: exporting is often cheaper than reducing, sorting, cleaning, recycling, or reusing plastics locally.

In 2017 China, fed up with being the Global North’s dumping ground, notified the World Trade Organization that it intended to ban imports of plastic waste.

 

Furthermore, MalaysiaThailand, and India have taken measures at the national level to ban, restrict, or reduce the import of plastic waste.

Numerous countries in the Global North have since been unable to cope, resulting in dramatic price increases for exporting, and more plastic being incinerated, sent to landfills, or stockpiled. It is time for measures that focus on reducing the overall global production and consumption of plastics and redesigning plastics for reuse and quality, such as toxic-free recycling.

Cities and countries across Asia, from Mumbai to Taiwan to Vanuatu, are starting to introduce bans on single-use plastics. The EU recently adopted new laws reducing single-use plastics, including bans on several items and making manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-ups, and an Australian government parliamentary inquiry produced a much strengthened national waste plan.

This was perhaps an unintended but critical outcome of China’s policy to stop importing plastic waste: a greater understanding of the fact that recycling is not a solution to plastic pollution. Given the massive plastic waste trade problem, plus the fact that only 9 percent of plastics ever produced has been recycled, it is clear we need to tackle the problem at source by reducing production and holding accountable the corporations who profit from this waste trade.

The global trade in plastic waste is symptomatic of the issues with our current corporate trading system. Will it be regulated to protect people and the environment, or will rich countries remain free to dump their plastic waste elsewhere? It is clear Asia will no longer tolerate being a waste dump.  We must all be willing to confront this issue, by overhauling how we produce and consume plastics and breaking free from our addiction to plastics.

Mageswari Sangaralingam is a researcher with Friends of the Earth Malaysia/SAM.

Sam Cossar is a trade campaigner with Friends of the Earth International. He tweets from @samcossar.

Article originally posted in The Diplomat.

 

How America Is Sabotaging The Global War On Plastic Waste

How America Is Sabotaging The Global War On Plastic Waste

When President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan Save Our Seas Act into law last October, he painted a grim picture of just how dire marine plastic pollution had become.

“Every year, over 8 million tons of garbage is dumped into our oceans,” he declared. “This waste, trash and debris harms not only marine life, but also fishermen and coastal economies along America’s vast stretches.”

However, the Trump administration has refused to recognize America’s role in the ocean plastic crisis and has repeatedly tried to stymie international efforts to tackle the problem, while boosting the plastic industry at home.

Trump has blamed “many countries of the world” for the marine plastic problem, calling out China and Japan by name. “The bad news is [this garbage] floats toward us” from “other countries very far away,” the president said last year, adding that the U.S. is then “charged with removing it, which is a very unfair situation.”

While it is true that Asia is the source of an estimated 80% of marine plastic pollution, what Trump failed to mention was that most of it doesn’t actually originate there.

 

KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS
President Donald Trump signing the Save Our Seas Act in the Oval Office on Oct. 11, 2018.

 

“It’s an uncomfortable fact that … the vast majority of the waste in these Asian countries that are ending up in the oceans actually come from the U.S. and Europe,” David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law said from Geneva on Thursday.

The U.S., which is one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of plastic, is also the No. 1 exporter of plastic scrap.

For decades, it sent much of this waste to China, which had processed about 45% of the world’s plastic scrap until it decided in 2018 to bar most of these imports. As a result, China’s Southeast Asian neighbors have been deluged with American plastic waste. Unlike China, however, countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to properly handle this onslaught.

As a HuffPost investigation uncovered earlier this year, bales of plastic trash from countries like the U.S., U.K. and Australia are being illegally dumped or burned across Southeast Asian countries. Local activists in Malaysia said at the time that the U.S. and other wealthy nations were using the region as a “dumping ground.”

 

Greenpeace activist Malaysia

JOSHUA PAUL FOR HUFFPOST
A Greenpeace activist at a dumpsite in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Jan. 30. Unlicensed recyclers are illegally burning or dumping waste plastics at sites across the country.

 

Yet, despite Americans’ contribution to the global plastic waste crisis ― and despite the recent efforts of most of the world’s governments to develop solutions to address it ― the Trump administration has chosen to take an “obstructionist” stance on this issue, activists say.

The U.S. is “very clearly isolating itself from the rest of the world on this issue,” said Azoulay, who directs CIEL’s environmental health program.

Just last week, the U.S. was accused of attempting to undermine a landmark Basel Convention proposal to control the flow of plastic waste to developing countries ― a set of rules that would shut the U.S. off from many of the countries where it currently ships its plastic scrap.

“It was another clear example of the U.S. playing an obstructive role in international negotiations,” Von Hernandez, global coordinator for the Break Free From Plastic initiative, said on Tuesday, speaking from the Philippines. “This has long been their playbook for anything to do with the plastic waste trade; they obfuscate the issue, they try to delay the process.”

On Friday, 186 countries and the European Union — all parties of the 1992 Basel treaty, which controls the transboundary movement of hazardous waste between nations — signed a legally binding agreement to track and limit the trade of lower-quality, mixed and contaminated plastics. These materials are typically difficult or impossible to recycle and are the plastics that often end up in landfills or polluting waterways. They also make up the vast majority of the plastic scrap exported by developed countries to poorer ones.

The U.S. is one of two countries that signed but never ratified the Basel treaty ― and, as such, was not among the countries that signed on to the new agreement, dubbed the Norwegian amendment after the country that first proposed it. That didn’t stop the American delegation from rabble-rousing, however.

There was an overwhelming consensus in support of the amendment, an unusual scenario for international agreements of this kind, according to Hernandez, Azoulay and Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, who were all in the room during the Basel negotiations last week. Even countries that have historically been antagonistic to plastic waste regulation, like Japan and Canada, backed the proposal.

There was just one tiny faction of countries that opposed the amendment, they said. The U.S. was vocal in its opposition, they noted. The others were Argentina and Brazil, neither of which export very much plastic scrap; the South American duo appeared to parrot the U.S. line.

“The U.S. delegation’s argument was the same argument we always hear from them: ‘We need more time, we cannot make a decision now, we need more data,’” Hernandez said. “You could tell that other parties were frustrated by their behavior.”

Puckett estimated that about 90% of the plastic exported to developing countries is mixed or contaminated. Under the new agreement, which will come into effect in January 2021, parties to the convention that wish to export most mixed and contaminated plastics will first need to obtain consent from the receiving nations.

Puckett described the new rules as “historic” and one of the convention’s greatest achievements to date.

The regulations, he said, are expected to have a profoundly positive effect on the plastic waste and recycling industry worldwide. There will be more transparency to what has historically been the very opaque international trade of plastic scrap. Recyclers in wealthy nations will be compelled to improve their sorting practices, which is expected to increase the rate that plastics are actually recycled. (Since 1950, the plastic waste recycling rate has been an abysmal 9% globally.)

The measures are also expected to significantly reduce the amount of contaminated plastics flowing into Southeast Asia, Africa and other developing areas ― and, in turn, slash the amount of marine plastic pollution originating from these nations.

It’s not hard to imagine why the Trump administration would oppose the Norwegian amendment. Hernandez said the U.S. has long opposed the Basel Convention and has a terrible track record when it comes to regulations related to waste of any kind.

Plus, he noted, the new rules are expected to hit the U.S. especially hard.

According to recent estimates by industry publication Resource Recycling, the U.S. currently exports at least 80% of its mixed plastics. Since the U.S. has not ratified the Basel Convention, however, developing countries that are parties to the treaty will no longer be able to accept most mixed plastics from the U.S. under the new rules.

“As a nonparty, the U.S. won’t be allowed to trade with parties” except for the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Puckett explained, noting that OECD members are mostly high-income economies known more for exporting plastic scrap than for importing it.

“The United States has been exporting so much of its scrap [to developing countries],” Puckett said. “They’re going to have to figure out something very different” after 2021.

 

Malaysian activist dumpsite

JOSHUA PAUL FOR HUFFPOST
A Malaysian activist checks out an illegal plastic dumping site inside a palm oil estate in Kuala Langat. Shredded plastic was spread on the ground and left here. Often, the dumpers will return and burn the piles at night.

 

Under Trump, a self-declared anti-globalist, the U.S. has increasingly been steered onto an isolationist path. It’s distanced itself from traditional trade partners and allies, has pulled out of international treaties like the landmark Paris climate change agreement and now, on the issue of plastics, has emerged starkly as a global outlier ― one that, according to activists, has attempted to dismantle the progress that other nations have made in this area.

Azoulay said this American separateness and antagonism was particularly obvious at a United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) meeting held in Kenya in March. During that meeting, almost all countries agreed to a proposal calling for U.N. members to phase out “most problematic single-use plastic products by 2025.” The U.S., with the support of Saudi Arabia and Cuba, however, took issue with this pledge and ultimately succeeded in watering down the language of the commitment to say only that countries would aim to “significantly reduce” single-use plastics by 2030.

According to Azoulay, who attended the Kenya meeting, the U.S. also played a “very strong obstructionist role” during discussions about broader frameworks related to marine litter and microplastics. “Again, the U.S. was a very lonely voice opposing the [plastic proposals] at UNEA,” he said.

Azoulay, a veteran attorney of environmental law, said he’s never seen the world’s nations as united over an issue as they appear to be regarding plastic waste.

“Today, if you look at those international gatherings, almost all countries are supporting tighter controls of plastic and they’re moving very fast,” he said. “In my whole career, I’ve never seen any international regulation move as fast.”

“Since there’s such a wide consensus,” Azoulay added, America’s opposition appears even “more radical.”

Observers have suggested that Trump’s chummy relationship with the fossil fuel industry, as well as influence from the American recycling lobby, could be a root cause of the administration’s hostile position.

Plastic production had been ramping up in the U.S. even prior to Trump’s ascent to the presidency. In 2015, the American Chemistry Council, an oil and gas trade association, declared that a plastics “renaissance” was underway in the U.S.

 

fossil fuels north dakota

GETTY EDITORIAL
A pump jack operating as a drill rig sits on a well pad in the Bakken Formation in Williston, North Dakota, on March 8, 2018. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.

 

Trump’s support of natural gas and other fossil fuels has further boosted America’s plastics industry, according to Azoulay and others.

As a 2017 CIEL reports detailed, 99% of the world’s plastics are produced from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels, and the “availability of cheap shale gas in the United States is fueling a massive wave of new investments in plastics infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad, with $164 billion planned for 264 new facilities or expansion projects in the U.S. alone,” the report said.

If this investment is spent in the way that it’s intended, CIEL said, virgin plastic production is slated to increase by 33%-36% in the U.S. by 2025.

“With the current administration relying so much on a good relationship with the fossil fuel industry, you can see a pattern in their [international] negotiations ― they oppose any source of restriction or anything that would result in a tighter control on plastic, whether virgin plastic production or plastic waste,” Azoulay said. “Their policy line at this point is, basically, don’t touch the plastic industry and let them deal with these issues themselves.”

U.S. politics has for decades been heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry, ― and the country has historically been known for its generally anti-regulatory stance in the global arena. But Jesse Bragg of the Boston-based nonprofit Corporate Accountability International said the Trump administration has been unique in its strident approach.

Even the Obama administration, which positioned the U.S. as an environmental leader and the country that spearheaded the Paris agreement, has been accused of weakening global environmental agreements, Bragg said, noting that “if you speak to most developing countries, they’ll tell you the reason the Paris agreement is as weak as it is, is because of the U.S.” But the Obama White House took pains to obscure this side of the negotiations.

The Trump administration, on the other hand, appears to have “less interest in hiding their true intentions,” Bragg said. “It doesn’t take much to see what they’re doing … and that’s a big departure from past administrations. The Trump administration doesn’t care what the world thinks.”

This attitude, Bragg warned, is a “dangerous place to be.”

“If they don’t care what their international reputation is, there’s nothing keeping the administration from continuing the obstruction that has been the [U.S.] trend for decades,” he said, “and they can operate in some dangerous ways to advance the financial interest of those in the administration ― and those supporting the administration.”

This story is part of a series on plastic waste, funded by SC Johnson. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the company.

Article originally posted in Huffpost.

 

Over 46 Million single-use plastics are disposed in Hong Kong every week

Over 46 Million single-use plastics are disposed in Hong Kong every week

Greeners Action has been focusing on waste reduction in Hong Kong for over 25 years. Single-use plastics and overpackaged products are the two areas that we aim to eliminate. To better understand the current situation, we conducted a survey in March and April this year and interviewed 861 people on single-use plastics distributed by restaurants.

plastic-waste-supermarket-hong-kong

We did a social action of returning the plastic waste created from overpackaged products back to the supermarket.

plastic-waste-supermarket-hong-kong

The result showed that over 10% respondents consumed 5 or more pieces in 4 different kinds of single-use plastics, including plastic straws(12%), plastic cutleries(10%), disposable food containers(12%) and take-away plastic bags(15%). It is estimated 46.4million single-use plastics are disposed of in Hong Kong every week with a population of 7.48 million. As the recycling rate is low, most of the plastics end up in landfills, which is alarming.

single-use plastics Hong Kong

Most of the single-use plastics end up in landfills, which is alarming.

80% respondents recognized the overflowing plastic problem, but they had not changed their habit and, at the same time, the restaurants actively distributed single-use plastics for free, which lead to the failure to reduce waste at source. The Hong Kong government is reviewing plastic bag levy and will legislate the municipal solid waste (MSW) charging, which is believed to provide an economic incentive for the public and the restaurants to reduce the use of single-use plastics.

Photo 5 Public generally recognize the overflowing plastic problem, but we need to put more effort to educate the Hong Kongers to BYO (Bring Your Own Container).

Our next step will be launching a “Shop Towards 0 Plastics” (S.T.O.P.) pledge, urging the corporate sector to reduce the usage of single-use plastics. We will invite merchants who do not sell over-packaged products or not to provide single-use tableware to customers to join our pledge, and an “S.T.0.P.” label will be given to them for identification. We believe that the survey results will encourage the restaurants and local stores to join the “S.T.0.P.” pledge and we can together gradually provide a plastic-free shopping environment for customers.